Some anemonefish lack personality: a comparative assessment of behavioral variation and repeatability in relation to environmental and social factors

Abstract

Determining the extent of repeatable differences in the behavior of animals and the factors that influence behavioral expression is important for understanding individual fitness and population processes, thereby aiding in species conservation. However, little is known about the causes of variation in the repeatability of behavioral differences among species because rarely have comparative studies been undertaken to examine the repeatability of behavioral differences among individuals within their natural ecological settings. Using two species of endemic subtropical anemonefishes, Amphiprion mccullochi and A. latezonatus at Lord Howe and North Solitary Islands, Australia, we conducted an in situ comparative analysis of personality traits, examining the repeatability of boldness, sociability and aggression as well as the potential role of environmental and social factors on behavioral expression. For A. mccullochi, only boldness and aggression were highly repeatable and these behaviors formed a behavioral syndrome. For A. latezonatus, none of the three behaviors were repeatable due to low-inter-individual variation in behavior. We suggest that the harsher and more variable environmental and social conditions experienced by A. latezonatus have resulted in reduced repeatability in behavior, in contrast to A. mccullochi which typically inhabits a more stable lagoonal reef environment. Additionally, group size and size rank, rather than nearest-neighbor distance and anemone size, influenced the expression of these behaviors in both species, suggesting that behavioral variation was more sensitive to social than environmental factors. Overall, differences in repeatability between these closely related species likely reflect adaptations to contrasting environmental and social conditions, although alternative explanations must be considered. The differences in behavioral consistency between these two endemic anemonefishes could lead to disparity in their resilience to environmental or social change in the future.

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Acknowledgements

We thank K. Harris, L. Sanchez-Peregrin, R. Edgar and I. Shaw for help in the field, and Lord Howe Island Marine Parks and DiveQuest, Mullaway for diving and boating support. This work was funded by the Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation, the Australian Geographic Society, Southern Cross University’s Marine Ecology Research Centre and the Centre for Sustainable Ecosystems Solutions at the University of Wollongong. Animal care and experimental protocols complied with animal ethics regulations and approvals from the University of Wollongong and Southern Cross University. Ethics approval numbers 14/06 and 15/06, respectively.

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Correspondence to Marian Y. L. Wong.

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Wong, M.Y.L., Beasley, A.L., Douglass, T. et al. Some anemonefish lack personality: a comparative assessment of behavioral variation and repeatability in relation to environmental and social factors. Coral Reefs 36, 1307–1316 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-017-1625-2

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Keywords

  • Clownfish
  • Amphiprion
  • Coral Reef
  • Boldness
  • Aggression
  • Sociability